PUBLISHED: 4:45 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Getting off the ground for a pilot's license

  Photo by Amanda Gragert
As we taxied the runway and gently left the ground, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk I felt the knot in my stomach disappear. I was sitting in the pilot's seat of the small plane as my instructor Wallace Long got the small four-seat plane into the air. It seemed like no time at all before we were flying around Douglas Island.

Then it was my turn to take over the controls. Long instructed me how to keep the aircraft straight and how to glide the plane a different direction. On the crisp, cold day, the wind did its share of hitting my nerves. Suddenly the plane would tilt to the left, causing me to question my ability to control it.

"That's the wind. Just tilt it back so that we're even," Long calmly directed me.

Being at the helm of an airplane is not something I've dreamed of doing, but the opportunity was something that I couldn't pass. The lesson was part of Project Pilot, sponsored by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

According to the organization, the number of licensed pilots in the United States has increased about 6 percent since 1997, and from 2003-2004 the number of student pilots rose 1 percent.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Wallace Long stands next to his Cessna 172 Skyhawk, which we used for a flying lesson.
In Southeast Alaska it seems as if a large portion of people have planes or are licensed pilots.

That might not quite be the case, but the need or want to be able to fly is a part of the reality of this region. I can't get in my vehicle and drive to Sitka, but having a plane would simplify a trip.

Of course it's not so easy, or inexpensive, or get a license and an airplane.

According to the Project Pilot, most flight students can expect to spend $4,000-$7,000 to attain a certificate, which is good for a lifetime. Pilots must pass a Federal Aviation Administration medical exam every two to three years, depending on age. Although training can begin at any age, students must be 16 years old to fly solo and 17 years old to hold a private pilot certificate. A minimum of 40 hours of flying time is required by the FAA, including at least 20 hours with an instructor and a minimum of 10 hours solo practice flying. It is typical for a student to fly 50-70 hours before licensure.

The new pilot also must take a two-part checkride in the aircraft, which is administered by an FFA-approved examiner. This includes an oral quiz testing required knowledge and flight planning skills and a flight test to demonstrate ability to use the skills and knowledge learned, according to Project Pilot.

My one lesson gave me an idea of the abundance of knowledge needed for piloting a plane. My instructor gave me an opportunity to have a hands-on part in starting up the plane and preparing for flight. The experience of being in the air actually seemed like the easy part. When it came to landing, it was all in the hands of my instructor, who got us back to land safely and allowed me to taxi the aircraft.

"Landing is easy," Long said. "It's learning how to land that's the tough part."

Project Pilot is the new flight training initiative of the non-profit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and serves as a resource for anyone who may be interested in learning to fly. For information, go online to, which includes a list of flight schools.